The opening act, Italian band Don Antonio, played a short set of mainly instrumental songs from their debut album, which was musically interesting and tinged with humour. Italians playing rock ’n’ roll may not be an easy concept take on board front man and lead guitarist Antonio Gramentieri mused and how the dance The Twist gave them an in. They played with a passion and ability that went down well with an audience that they had quipped earlier doesn’t particularly like support bands, setting the tone for a rewarding evening.
After a short break, and a change of clothes, the band emerged with Escovedo and preceded to play four songs that were fiery examples of a hard rock attitude that took the level up a notch or two from the recent Burn Something Beautiful album. The band were with him all the way with a strong rhythm section bolstered by lead guitar, saxophone and keyboards. What was immediately apparent was the commitment that Escovedo brought to his performance. His vocals were powerful and purposeful and his guitar playing integrated with the overall sound blasting from the stage.
After four songs Escovedo let us know how he was happy to be back in Dublin and, in particular, Whelans again. “Thanks for coming out on whatever night this is” he noted with some obvious touches of touring fatigue. He changed from electric to acoustic guitar for the next few songs which would be for the “Americana crowd.” He preceded that with a brief history of his past and his love for influences such as the New York Dolls and The Stooges (among many others). He talked of his move to New York where he met old friends Chip and Tony Kinman (of fellow punk band The Dils) and how they drove across America with a plan to bring together George Jones and The Clash. The result of this was of course the influential band Rank & File. They arrived in Austin “the City of Songs.” A small spec of blue amid a sea of red - a place where you could find the likes of Blaze Foley or Townes Van Zandt wandering around looking for a misplaced guitar from the previous night!
He played a song he co-wrote with his old friend Chuck Prophet Bottom Of The World that addressed how things had changed in Austin (and everywhere). In this set he also played a song that he’d been singing for the recently departed. On this occasion, he dedicated the song to Irishman and music lover Frank Murray. Sister Lost Soul was a song that he had co-written with the late Jeffery Lee Pierce of Gun Club. He also included Down In The Bowery from his Streets Songs Of Love album. He took the opportunity also to introduce the band, Don Antonio: Matteo Monti on drums, bassist and singer Denis Valentini plus Francesco Valtieri who played saxophone and keyboards as well as tambourine and backing vocals as well as the aforementioned Antonio Gramentieri on guitar. They proved to be a superb backing band given that they only had a day or so rehearsal before driving 10 hours in a small van to Frankfurt for the first gig of this European tour.
Escovedo discussed the current situation in America and how his family had come to America from Mexico and of his 12 siblings eight had been involved with music. Two were noted percussionists and how he felt that they had enriched the cultural life there in the US with their contributions. His father was a hardworking man whose own father had been abusive. This had caused his father to run away at an early age. That sense of freedom is something that seems fundamental to his son too. A troubadour who brings his talent to different towns and shares his life experiences, both good and bad, with his audiences.
Sally Was A Cop was a song that brought some of his shared heritage into play. It was one of the strongest performances on the night that mixed some older songs with those from the latest album. He closed the show with his take on Bruce Springsteen’s Always A Friend, a song that the Boss had invited him to sing with him at a big show in Texas. The penultimate song was not his but one from BP Fallon, who joined the band to deliver, in his unique way, I Believe - a song originally recorded with Jack White but here given justice with the band directed by Fallon’s hand movements and vocal phrasing.
For many reasons a great gig, even if, at times, the vocals seemed a little lost in the mix, Alejandro Escovedo is a survivor as well as a showman. A man imbued with the spirit of rock ’n’ roll who transcends genre to deliver his heart and soul. In doing so he is burning with something beautiful.
Review by Stephen Rapid Photography by Kaethe Burt-O'Dea (top) and Stephen Rapid (bottom)